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Mon, March 18

New program helps pay for mammograms

Breast cancer is one of those dire diagnoses that everyone thinks will happen to somebody else.

But since breast cancer stands as the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths among American women, after lung cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends that women 40 and over have yearly screenings.

But what do you do if you can't afford a mammogram and are not eligible for Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), the state's version of Medicaid?

The answer might be The Well Woman HealthCheck Program (WWHC) based at the Yavapai County Community Health Services. The program, which draws on federal, state county and private funding, began in October 2001, according to LeeAnn Collins, program coordinator. The program is part of early breast and cervical cancer screening through the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

The WWHC provides free mammograms, clinical screening, education and individual case management for low-income women ages 40 to 64 who lack health insurance. Women who have a high deductible on their insurance may also qualify, Collins said.

Early detection through breast self-examinations, which women should begin in their 20s, clinical breast examinations and mammograms saves lives. By finding a cancer early, women can seek the most cost-effective and successful treatment. Also, early detection increases long-term survival rates.

"That's why we want them to come in early," Collins said. "The sooner we catch it, there's many more options for treatment and better long-term survival."

County Supervisors Chairman Chip Davis urged women to be sure they are tested.

"One of my best friends just survived breast cancer this year," Davis said. "We walked through the entire thing, through the initial finding out and the ups and downs of the treatment."

Davis added, "It's easier to do things on a preventive nature than once it takes hold. Then you fight for life."

Doctors believe that early detection tests save thousands of lives each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Women do not always recognize breast cancer symptoms and, since the disease does not always present any symptoms, tests can be crucial in discovering it before it progresses.

Through WWHC, a physician's assistant provides the initial examinations at the Yavapai County Community Health Centers. This includes a breast exam, pap smear and pelvic exam. They receive referrals for mammograms at area imaging centers. Women may also be referred to gynecologists or surgeons, both in the Prescott area and the Verde Valley, who work with the program as needed, Collins said.

"The program picks up the cost of their screening," Collins said.

In the 2009 fiscal year 350 women took part in the program. Six were diagnosed with breast cancer, Collins said. Since July, 100 women have been seen and two diagnosed with breast cancer.

In 2007, more than 2,800 people were diagnosed with breast cancer in Arizona and 715 people died from the disease.

That year Yavapai County had 205 cases of breast cancer, including 198 women and seven men, according to county statistics.

In 2009, again the most recent statistics available, 192,000 patients nationwide received a breast cancer diagnosis. Some 70,000 people died from breast cancer. The American Cancer Society predicts 207,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer this year and 54,000 non-invasive cases. Also, the ACS estimates that 39,840 women will die from the disease.

Breast cancer in women has decreased by about 2 percent per year between 1998 and 2007 in women 50 or older. Women face a 1 in 35 chance that breast cancer will cause their death, according to the cancer society. About 2.5 million breast cancer survivors live in the U.S.

To contact the Well Woman HealthCheck Program call 442-5491 in Prescott or 649-5057 in the Verde Valley.

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